There is no evidence that the Israeli killed in February's earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand was a Mossad agent, New Zealand's prime minister, John Key said on Wednesday.
Key's statement pours cold water on a newspaper report claiming that the behavior of the Israeli who died, and that of his three companions, as well as the behavior of the Israeli government following the earthquake was suspicious.
Ofer Mizrahi was killed instantly on February 22 when the van he and his three friends were travelling in was hit by a large chunk of concrete. His three friends managed to escape. They returned to Israel 12 hours later, according to reports.
New Zealand's Southland Times newspaper reported Tuesday that New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service (SIS) suspected Ofer Mizrahi and his three friends of being Mossad agents. According to the report, Mizrahi and his three friends, Liron Sade, Michael Fraidman and Guy Jordan, installed a Trojan horse program into a police computer system in an effort to obtain sensitive security information. The report also claimed that at least five passports were found on Mizrahi's body. Israel has confirmed that Mizrahi had more than one passport but has not responded on the claim that he was found to be in possession of five passports.
Prime Minister John Key confirmed that New Zealand intelligence had investigated the four Israelis following the Christchurch quake, but said the probe had turned up nothing.
"The unusual circumstances which triggered the investigation was the rapid departure from the country of the three surviving members of the group of Israelis in question," Key told reporters.
New Zealand police say their computer system is secure.
Nevertheless, New Zealand's Stuff news web site suggests their prime minister is being "coy."
"The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Key four times on the day of the earthquake but Key would only discuss part of those phone calls," reported the web site, "which he said were to offer help and advice." However, the reporter wrote, "he would not discuss other aspects of the calls."
"When asked repeatedly if the Israeli government had done anything wrong he would not answer," the reporter added, "saying it was not in the national interest for him to do so."
The claim that the Israelis killed in the New Zealand earthquake were Mossad agents is "science fiction," Israel's Ambassador in New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, said Tuesday night.
"I drove his three friends to the airport so they could go home. They were shocked and crying, they were just talking about their friends," Tzur told New Zealand's Stuff news web site.
"To suggest anything else, someone has been feeding you science fiction."
"These were youngsters holidaying in your beautiful country ... we encourage our young people to visit New Zealand."
Tzur denied that Mizrahi had five or six passports on his person but added that multiple citizenship is common in Israel due to travel restrictions on Israelis in certain countries.
The ambassador said that no one in the New Zealand authorities has brought up the case with him.
"I am very upset that intelligence agencies are telling you they had suspicions of any of these people.
"Yes, there was some regrettable history of Mossad involvement in New Zealand, in 2004, and they have apologised for that and we have put it beyond us. Now, we are moving forward," Tzur said.
'It made us laugh'
Ofer Mizrahi's family have rejected the reports out of hand.
"It makes us laugh. It's a funny oddball story," said Amichai Jordan, partner of Rimona Mizrahi, mother of Ofer z"l. Amichai is also the father of Guy Jordan, Ofer's good friend from Kibbutz Magal, who was in the van with him at the time of his death. "To say that a 22-year old boy is a Mossad agent is amusing, and if that's what they think of our Mossad over there, then it says a lot about them."
"To say that they are Mossad agents is an oddball entertaining and funny story," said Amichai, "He could barely chop wood, and now they're saying he's a Mossad agent? For us it's nothing more than a joke."